Remote-controlled drones are used for aerial surveillance and assassination of designated enemies. Until recently most of the targets have been at a safe remove, over there where other people live. Now drones operate over the United States, and they will soon be flying over our heads in Canada.
Dazzling leaps in science and technology tend to obscure uncomfortable questions about control and consequence. David Lyon has built a career on asking such questions. I met Professor Lyon, an international authority on surveillance and identification systems, at his office in Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario. With quiet intensity he detailed what he sees and thinks, and what questions arise. For example:
“Several companies are setting up just now to manufacture drones in Canada – clearly they believe they can corner some part of this expanding market. Primarily they would produce surveillance drones, but even those raise significant questions. If you look at their marketing materials, they want to provide drones for private security companies to scan public events – sporting events, political demonstrations, picket lines, that sort of thing. These drones would operate in conjunction with facial recognition technology, generating very precise high-resolution images. This raises deeply important moral and ethical questions – or at least it ought to – for example about the kinds of things this technology allows us to do from a great distance, remotely, with impunity.* How do such vital questions go missing so easily? How have we managed to create a world like this?”
* Dreams in Infrared: The Woes of an American Drone Operator. Spiegel Online International, 12/14/2012.
Transport Canada looks at loosening restrictions on unmanned aerial vehicles. CBC News, August 2012.
The Coming Drone Attack on America. The Guardian UK, 22 December 2012.
Protect global internet freedom: OpenMedia.ca.
Liquid Surveillance: A Conversation. Zygmunt Bauman and David Lyon, 2012.